At $299, Ulead DVD Workshop is a capable, easy-to-use authoring program that effortlessly bridges the gap between inexpensive but limited DVD-authoring apps and expensive, complex professional programs. A $499 version includes AC-3 audio encoding (digital audio compression that's compatible with a wider range of DVD players), and both versions offer a smooth interface and excellent menu creation. However, DVD Workshop does suffer some gaps--primarily, it won't let you create multiple subtitle and audio tracks. We expect this app's most significant competition to come from a product that hasn't shipped yet: Adobe Encore (scheduled for release in the third quarter of 2003 for $549). In the meantime, DVD Workshop is ideal for corporate and event videographers seeking to produce creative, entertaining titles without spending a fortune. Ulead DVD Workshop features a straightforward interface dominated by a large preview window with menu buttons along the top. The program can capture analog or digital video, which is convenient if you're converting tapes to DVD. Plus, it can recognize and use scene changes for chapter points, another time-saver.
Workshop can capture and detect scenes based on time code, with the option to use scene breaks as chapter points.
DVD Workshop provides three menu-design options. You can use a wizard to select a template and fully automate menu creation and menu-to-menu linking; you can also drag one of 63 varied templates to the menu strip and customize your production manually. Of course, most advanced users will prefer to build their own menus from scratch, which the program also allows.
If you're a novice or simply in a hurry, the menu wizard speeds menu creation by automatically linking all videos and menus.
After you design your menus, you can link menus to other menus (say, if you want to include several movies, each with its own set of submenus) just by dragging and dropping. You can preview your work using standard, DVD player-style controls. Unfortunately, the preview controls lack a slider bar or buttons for fast-forward and reverse--frustrating limitations that slowed our testing. (For example, if you want to find out where your video jumps after a certain segment finishes, you'll have to watch the entire segment.) When you're ready to burn, you can use canned templates for various compressed-quality and video-resolution settings or customize your own compression and resolution parameters. Before burning, DVD Workshop checks to ensure that your menu buttons don't overlap and that all assets are correctly linked, a useful quality check. Ulead DVD Workshop really stands out with its capability to design custom menus. You can insert and customize text and menu buttons, or drag scenes onscreen, and Workshop will create scene-specific buttons from them. Best of all, built-in aids for alignment and resizing place and size your images automatically, and you can copy and paste attributes from other buttons. Of course, you can insert your own background image and choose highlight colors for menu items--that is, decide which color buttons or titles will appear when your viewers select them during playback. Workshop also supports audio and motion menus--where a video plays behind chapter buttons--as well as motion buttons.
In addition, Workshop offers practically unlimited menu-linking flexibility, something that's almost universally missing from sub-$100 authoring programs such as iDVD or Ulead's own DVD MovieFactory. With DVD Workshop, you can burn several movies onto a single DVD, and each movie can have its own complex menu structure. For example, click one movie's menu button, and you'll see three or four new buttons that represent scenes or video chapters--or even more submovies. DVD Workshop also offers more rigid templates that, like those in cheaper consumer products, let you navigate through scenes only in order.
Although you can add a background track and specify slide duration, you can't automatically synchronize the two. We'd also like to see interslide transitions.
DVD Workshop lets you create slide shows out of digital photos, but while this tool is easy to use, you can't create transitions between slides or automatically tailor an audio track to the duration of the slide show. Too bad: those convenient features exist in much cheaper apps, such as Pinnacle Expression.
The more expensive version of DVD Workshop includes AC-3 audio compression, which is the Dolby Digital audio-encoding technology mandated on NTSC (the U.S. broadcast standard) DVD players. AC-3 compression is extremely valuable for anyone who wants to author videos for broad distribution, since some older DVD players don't support MPEG-2 audio, leaving bandwidth-hungry LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation--a standard uncompressed WAV file) as the only universally supported audio format. To encode into AC-3 format, you simply select AC-3 in an audio-encoding screen or use a template with AC-3 audio. AC-3 encoding generally worked well in our tests, though it failed to convert one file captured in 32KHz audio, requiring a call to technical support.
The addition of AC-3 audio support ensures compatibility with older DVD players.
Unfortunately, DVD Workshop lacks strong foreign-language support. You can't make multiple subtitle or audio tracks, so if you want to include French, German, or Spanish audio as well as subtitles, you're out of luck. Nor does Workshop support multiple angle videos--which allow you to switch between different angles of an event, useful for filming sporting events--or dual layer support, which lets you build titles that support multiple layers. These are minor complaints, however, considering that most of Workshop's target customers won't need these tools. Our primary test project was a wedding weekend with 35 minutes of video shot on MiniDV with two slide shows and four menus. After completing our authoring, Studio rendered and burned the title in 40 minutes and 14 seconds on a Pentium 4 3.06GHz computer running Windows XP, writing to a Pioneer A05 drive using Verbatim 4X-rated DVD-R media. That's acceptably fast, but it's worth noting that speed is directly related to the quality of the drive that's doing the burning.
Viewed on a JVC HDTV, final picture quality was excellent--particularly the slide shows, which looked so bright, colorful, and three-dimensional, it was as if they were painted on the screen. We also ran shorter time trials against two consumer programs; we found Workshop to be about 15 percent slower than Sonic MyDVD and about 5 percent faster than Pinnacle Studio. Ulead backs DVD Workshop with very good support. Telephone technical support is free (but not toll-free) and available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. We called about an AC-3 file-encoding issue on the Tuesday after a three-day holiday weekend and were forced to leave a message after being on hold for 15 minutes. A support rep called us back in about an hour, noted that Workshop had experienced some problems with 32KHz audio files, and suggested several workarounds that resolved the problem.
Ulead's Web site provides technical FAQs and compatibility lists for CD and DVD recorders, capture cards, DV cameras, and DVD players. Ulead also posts several useful tutorials, including how to create motion menus and how to design buttons and menu objects in Adobe Photoshop.